Patience in Language Learning

As time has gone on in this language learning project, I’ve tried to pay attention to how things have changed and adjusted for me since I first started.  A part of that is just to try and keep in mind how I’ve improved, as a means of keeping my confidence up, because remembering how much of a struggle things used to be compared to now is a good way to keep from getting discouraged.  But, in addition to keeping tabs on those changes, I’m also getting the benefit of hindsight on the things I was doing wrong, and the errors in thinking I was making that first time around with learning a new language.  If/when the time comes where I’m wanting to learn a third language and needing to start from scratch again, my “starting from scratch” will be nowhere near where I was starting with Spanish, because it will not be my first time learning a new language.

It will of course be somewhat variable just where my starting point would end up being on a language.  If I opted for another romance language, I’d have the benefit of all the cognates that English shares with the various romance languages, plus all the cognates it shares with Spanish, along with the familiarity in romance language sentence structure (which of course aren’t identical between each other, but more closely related than they are to English).  While, conversely, if I were to go for something like Japanese, I wouldn’t have any of that to rely on.  In cases like that, the benefit comes from the lessons learned on the way not related to Spanish itself, but rather the act of learning a new language.

In that vein, there are some that are more obvious than others, like having the knowledge that I can pick up an additional language, so I’m not embarking on a fool’s errand or anything, or what methods and plans work well for me, but then there are the less obvious lessons that I try to keep a look-out for.  These lessons come down to an attitude or state of mind about language learning that I’ve had the chance to change with the benefit of insight and experience.

One that I’ve been thinking about lately is how my attitude toward patience has changed.  Patience is a very important element of language learning, and it’s something that you hear a lot as a piece of advice for people starting out.  Don’t let yourself get too frustrated, don’t beat yourself up for needing time, that sort of thing.  It’s something I had in mind without looking into any sort of advice, because I knew going into things that I’d have to be patient with the process.  Nobody can learn a new language overnight and regardless of what I did it would end up being a long-haul.  I kept that squarely in mind and prepared myself for a long-haul, and I thought I was being patient.

What I didn’t really understand is how layered that patience needs to be.  You can go ahead and expect something to take years to accomplish, and still end up beating your head against a wall day to day in frustration.

I remember months ago, back before I started this blog, trying to work on learning to count in Spanish.  I knew one through ten already, I’ve known how to count to ten in Spanish since I was probably five, but up past ten was vague and hazy.  I remembered learning at least up through one hundred back in Spanish class in high school, but that info hadn’t stuck around in my head, so I was starting over with it.  It stuck out to me as something that I needed to devote special focus to, because most of the time numbers aren’t written out like I’ve been doing in here in the blog.  A book would say 2019, not dos mil diecinueve, and when I read 2019, my brain defaults to pronouncing that as “two-thousand nineteen.”  Obviously it would take extra focus and extra practice to learn the numbers, and if I didn’t try I’d be stuck struggling with numbers forever.

I was wrong on both counts (get it?  Counts?  Hah, math joke).  In the first place, all that extra focus that I gave myself, where I spent time counting one through one hundred in my head every day, followed by two-hundred, three-hundred, etc., then the same for thousands and millions, didn’t really end up helping.  Sure, I’d learned the words, I’d learned them the first time they’d been introduced to me, but it didn’t make me faster on the draw for thinking them when looking at numbers written down, nor did it make it easier to understand numbers spoken out loud quickly.  All it did was take up time and effort each day, to frustrating and discouraging results.  Here I was, trying to do this basic bit of language learning, and despite consistent effort, it wasn’t becoming automatic.  I eventually stopped trying, more or less giving up on learning the numbers for real, figuring I could come back to it later at some point.

In the second place, months after that, without having spent any time really focusing on it or even coming across many numbers at all, they’ve managed to become close to automatic for me anyway.  Don’t get me wrong, there hasn’t been zero effort.  When I come across a number in a book, I make the effort to read it, either out loud or in my head, with the Spanish words for that number.  At times that would stumble me up and I’d have to slam to a halt for a moment while I tried to remember if cuarenta was forty or fifty, but that’s often true with lots of words.  These days, I rarely have to think about it at all.

Patience doesn’t just mean looking at the big picture and knowing that it’s going to take a long time to do something.  It’s also part of the day to day, informing the approach to learning.  That work I did with numbers wasn’t worthless, as it did help to strengthen the information in my head, but it was still an action taken with shot-sightedness, built on an assumption that I needed to hammer that information home now, that if I didn’t I’d be struggling with it forever.  The opposite is true, that information would cement itself in due time and the struggling would pass without needing to take notice.  The difference between the two methods was hours of frustration, a sense of failure, and the gnawing fear that I must have been doing something wrong.

So much of the early going with language learning is frustrating, when you have no words and are fighting through holding onto anything, and it feels like every new word you get needs to be wrestled with and mastered or you’re just “not learning anything.”  There’s no room for that sort of patience when it feels like it’s either memorize it cold or fail.  From my perspective now, I think I’ll have a much easier time of it the next go around when learning a language.  It all comes eventually, and fighting to square it away immediately is just asking for frustration.

Now then, let’s look at this week’s numbers.

Tuesday 2/12

  • Duolingo: 30 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 13 chapters of Un Pequeño Favor, ~240 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Wednesday 2/13

  • Duolingo: 10 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 13 chapters of Un Pequeño Favor, ~200 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Thursday 2/14

  • Duolingo: 30 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 8 chapters of Un Pequeño Favor, 2 chapters of Renegado, ~230 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Friday 2/15

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 10 chapters of Renegado, ~150 minutes
  • Watching/Listening: 1 episode of Daniel San GMR, ~30 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Saturday 2/16

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 14 chapters of Renegado, ~200 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Sunday 2/17

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 13 chapters of Renegado, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes

Monday 2/18

  • Duolingo: 200 XP earned, ~0 minutes
  • Reading: 10 chapters of Renegado, 1 chapter of Cambios, ~180 minutes
  • Speaking: reading out loud, ~30 minutes
  • Total Duolingo: 870 XP, 0 minutes
  • Total reading: 84 chapters read, 1,380 minutes
  • Total watching/listening: 1 YouTube video, 30 minutes
  • Total speaking: reading out loud, 210 minutes
  • Total Time: 23 hours 30 minutes

Here we are continuing the all-reading-all-the-time experiment for the second week.  As you can see, I broke with the reading-only thing for Friday and watched a Daniel San GMR video, which was because he put out a new video that day.  I could have waiting and watched it after the experiment was over, I suppose, but I’m used to watching YouTube videos when they come out.  I figured watching something in Spanish because I wanted to watch it then was well within the spirit of input-based learning, so I don’t feel bad about breaking up the experiment at all.

On that note of getting some listening practice in after a while of not, I am afraid I didn’t have much new information to gain from the experience.  It wasn’t harder than normal to understand, so my listening muscles aren’t atrophying or anything, but I didn’t really notice any improvement from the difficulty level his videos normally are.  It’s only been a week and change, so it’s hardly a bad thing that I didn’t notice much of a change yet, but it would have been cool if I had noticed a jump.  Ah well, can’t have everything.

In the reading department, I finished Un Pequeño Favor and Renegado this week, as well as started in on Cambios.  Cambios is the last book I have access to of Dresden Files in Spanish, so this reread is coming to an end pretty soon.  It’s a disappointment for me, but it is what it is.  I’ll be keeping a lookout for released of the last three books in the series in Spanish over the next few months, but for now I’m going to be switching book series and diving into Discworld next week.  That series will take a while to work through, as I believe I can get all of it in Spanish, and it’s some 40 books long.  A lot of those books are shorter than Dresden Files books by as much as half to a third, but still, I’ll be kept busy for a while.

After the first week of reading as much as I could, I had some concern that the numbers might start to drop off as the first burst of interest died down, but this second week has been higher than the first by an hour and a half.  Even if you factor out the YouTube video, that’s still a full hour up from last week.  Maybe that head of steam was enough to last for longer than a week and I’m due for a drop off soon, but right now I’m feeling pretty good about things.

Part of the way into the week, I decided to spend my negligible DuoLingo time testing out of a number easy level four categories, just for a bit of variety.  The higher XP looks like I’m doing more, but those test outs take less than five minutes to do, so I’m still just rounding it down to zero.  DuoLingo is still entertaining to use for me, and while I’m sticking with the plan to not spend much time on it per day, I also was feeling like I wasn’t making much “progress” on the tree, so this felt like a reasonable switch for me.  I might not be doing much, but I’ll be fully clearing out one of the lower sections of lessons in short order anyway.

As a side note, as all of this reading is taking place on my Kindle, I’ve been amused by how often I need to charge the poor workhorse.  The battery’s still holding strong and everything, but once upon a time I would only need to charge it once every couple of weeks, but with all this daily reading it’s now once or twice a week.  Still very impressive battery life compared to something like a computer or phone, but I am certainly putting it through its paces.

Well, that’ll do for this one.  Time to finish off this book series and move on to the next one.  TTFN.

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